I made a case for cooking on a recent post, and today, let’s talk about how to get started in the kitchen.

This post for you if you’ve ever:

  • felt even a slight yearning to utilize your kitchen more.
  • looked at a friend who can whip together a meal effortlessly and thought, “I wish I could do that.”
  • felt uneasy about how much you spend on takeout, but don’t know what else to do.
  • bored yourself with the story that you “can’t cook.”

Believe it or not, you can cook. No one’s born knowing how to cook, not even Julia Child or an Iron Chef. But it takes practice, a few resources, and a willingness to learn (i.e. make mistakes). Ready to get started?

Make a list of what you already know how to make (and probably forgot you know how to make). Maybe it’s toast and eggs, grilled cheese or quesadilla, a certain burrito you learned how to assemble during your high school days, a pasta dish or pizza made with Trader Joe’s crust. It can be a nice surprise and empowering to realize you’re not starting from zero; you’re building on your current skills set, no matter how small.

Adopt a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset. Whether we believe our talents and abilities are set traits (fixed mindset) or whether we believe we can grow and change through persistent effort and overcoming setbacks (growth mindset) determines our potential in any given area.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s famous research comparing what happens when you praise children for being “smart” versus praising them for their effort. Dweck gave children a task to solve (a puzzle or math problem). After they were done, the children were asked if they wanted to try solving a more challenging task. Those that were told, “Good job, you’re very smart,” were much more likely to back out instead of taking on the next challenge, compared to those that were told, “Good job, you worked very hard.”

Luckily, we can choose which mindset we want to adopt. So as you get started cooking, don’t take cooking disappointments or failures personally and interpret them as “evidence” that you’re not cut out to cook. I’ve seen too many people give up on cooking early in the game. Instead, choose a growth mindset and give yourself credit for any effort you put in, regardless of the outcome. Reframe any setback as a learning experience and most importantly, keep trying! One recipe at a time. It’s the only way to become a better cook.

Allow me to introduce you to the most comprehensive resource on earth… I was telling my mom recently that I regretted not paying more attention to her and my dad’s cooking growing up. I would love to be able to make some of the Vietnamese dishes I grew up eating, and asked if she could email me a few recipes. Her response? “Go on YouTube. It’s all there.”

She’s right. And unlike reading a written list of instructions, it’s so helpful when you can see the cooking in action or even pictures of the process along the way, especially if you’re a visual learner like me.

Want to know how to caramelize onions? Make perfectly cooked hardboiled eggs? Whip together a classic guacamole? Roast a certain vegetable? Cook bacon that’s flat and crispy instead of curled and gnarly-looking? It’s all there at your fingertips. Google, Bing, YouTube…just hit “Search.”

Check out these great resources. While I do love Google, if you find yourself sucked down the internet vortex, feeling overwhelmed and spending waaay too much time reading comments on Allrecipes.com, I’ve got a few other ideas for you.

One of my favorite cooking resources was created by Cynthia Lair, my former instructor and culinary director of Bastyr’s nutrition program: Cookus Interruptus. Not only will you find reliably good recipes using whole foods, each recipe features a short instructional video that incorporates improv comedy! I’m still learning (and laughing) my way through this goldmine.

Take a tip from other Mindful Nutrition readers. Thanks to all of you who offered your own tips on how to get started cooking! Check these out:

“I was inspired years ago to view cooking as the perfect opportunity to explore your creative side and play around with different spices, textures, and flavor combos. I often find recipes online that have an ingredient or two I don’t care for due to the nutritional profile or the taste, so I pretend like I’m back in science class, and use that as an opportunity to play around and experiment.” ~Stacey

 “..if you don’t like a vegetable cooked in a certain way (boiled, for example) try to cook it another way (grilled or roasted) – it will be a different experience!” ~Tracy

“It’s great to try new things out, but with a little bit of skill, [start with] just a short set of your favorite meals – maybe 5 – and once you can do those “restaurant quality”, you’ll not mind eating in!” ~Marj Weir

I’d love to hear from you. If you have a goal to cook at home more, what do you think will be most helpful for you to do (or keep in mind) to make this happen? I’m sure your insight will be helpful to others reading!

UPDATE (March 11, 2019): I went to hear Samin Nosrat, chef, author and Netflix star of Salt Fat Acid Heat, speak yesterday and loved her tips for anyone who wants to learn how to cook or get better at it:
1) Taste everything.
2) It’s okay to mess up.
3) Cooking is a craft and crafts get better with practice. So keep cooking!